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Principles of Economic Gardening Help Local Businesses Thrive
Pueblo County, Colorado, Grows Economy with GIS
According to the United States Small Business Administration, small businesses have created 60 to 80 percent of net new jobs since the 1990s and employ approximately half of all U.S. workers. These facts are at the heart of the economic development philosophy of economic gardening.
Pueblo County, Colorado, has adopted the approach, which focuses on cultivating local businesses rather than landing large companies looking for a cheap place to do business. Instead of making a splash with 1,000 new jobs coming into the community, economic gardeners favor a job here, a job there for a slower, stable growth pattern. GIS is a key component in the process.
"Businesses that are already in town are not fully focused on the bottom line," says Christopher Markuson, GIS manager, Pueblo County. "They're looking to improve business, but they're also looking to do what's right by their employees. We don't want a large company to come in, pay lousy wages, and then leave when the local economy strengthens or the workers demand higher pay."
Markuson learned about the approach from the nearby City of Littleton, Colorado, when he was searching for a way to develop businesses that would not only add to the quality of life in Pueblo County but also continue to support the area during economic downturns. "We were looking at communities that rode out the last recession in the late 1990s unscathed," he emphasizes. "There were a few, but Littleton was at the top of the list."
As it happened, GIS initially started in Pueblo County in the early 1990s to help the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program at the Pueblo Chemical Depot plan for any potential emergencies. Drawing from that experience, GIS use has been rapidly growing, providing services to almost every county department.
When it became clear that Pueblo County was moving into the area of consulting for businesses, the county looked into the various software options and selected the suite of ArcGIS Desktop, Esri Business Analyst, Esri Business Analyst Online, and the Esri Business Analyst Segmentation Module to provide current, accurate data for its reports and to view it spatially.
The Right Location
Businesses across the county have heard about Pueblo County's GIS Department's consulting service, and business owners are scheduling appointments months in advance. The GIS team then meets with owners to find out about their concerns, interests, and current efforts, asking questions such as: Do you want to target advertising to reach a specific set of consumers? Are you looking for a good site for a new location? Then the team uses ArcGIS Desktop and its business extensions to analyze and map demographic and other data to share with the client.
"We have this interesting reputation around town as folks that are going to give you real, truthful answers to your questions," explains Markuson. "We'll tell people, ‘No, the data doesn't support your plan to open a coffee shop where there are only 30 potential customers around you. It's just not feasible, and here's the evidence.'"
The GIS team members in Pueblo County work with many kinds of businesses in the area. They recently helped a local Web-based business that wanted to improve market penetration nationwide. The team and the business owners developed strategies to increase business in 14 of the company's top markets with advertising across various media, including television, radio, subway platform ads, and direct mail. They also identified the top ZIP Codes where people live who are searching for the company's product online and used that information to create Google AdWords and optimize the Web site for search engines. The campaign is successfully bringing in new revenue, and within a month of the campaign, the business created four new jobs.
Nonprofit organizations are also benefiting from the GIS Department's guidance. The Pueblo Community Health Center met with the GIS team for less than an hour to discuss an upcoming capital campaign. The team provided a targeted mailing list that resulted in a 63 percent increase in new donors.
"The GIS Department's consulting service helped us look through different characteristics for reaching the right donors," says Janet Fieldman, chief foundation officer, Pueblo Community Health Center Foundation. "The demographic analysis and mapping allowed us to get into the roots of our community and build our base quickly for the long term."
The center reached its five-year fund-raising goal of $15,000 in one year. Prior to this campaign, the center purchased mailing lists based on a few demographics, such as annual income and assets, but had not heavily reached out to individuals because of low return and low donor acquisition. Now that there are better data and analysis, and therefore more success, the center will increase future fund-raising goals.
The analysis and mapping using ArcGIS Desktop and its extensions also show the center where services and advertising should be located. "It allows us to decide on the right level of outreach based on the quantity of donors within particular geographic areas," adds Fieldman.
A few years ago, the local community college needed to increase enrollment by 5 percent. The GIS analysis gave the college information it could use to most effectively market the school. The college surpassed the one-year goal of bringing enrollment up 5 percent by increasing it 17 percent.
To date, Pueblo County's GIS Department's consulting service has tracked 58 new jobs emerging from the businesses it helped grow, bringing in $2.8 million of new revenue into the county. Most of these new jobs pay livable wages—$45,000 each on average—offer benefits, and have little potential to move out of the community in pursuit of a lower-cost alternative.
For more information, contact Christopher Markuson, GIS manager, Pueblo County, Colorado (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
See also "Helping Big Business Make the Right Fit."